Breakthrough in 3D printing at University of Nottingham

Researchers at the University of Nottingham have pioneered a breakthrough method to rapidly 3D print fully functional electronic circuits.

The circuits, which contain electrically-conductive metallic inks and insulating polymeric inks, can now be produced in a single inkjet printing process where a UV light rapidly solidifies the inks.

The technique paves the way for the electronics manufacturing industry to produce fully functional components such as 3D antennae and fully printed sensors from multiple materials including metals and plastics.

The new method combines 2D printed electronics with Additive Manufacturing or 3D printing – which is based on layer-by-layer deposition of materials to create 3D products.

This expands the impact of Multifunctional Additive Manufacturing, which involves printing multiple materials in a single additive manufacturing system to create components that have broader functionalities.

The new method overcomes some of the challenges in manufacturing fully functional devices that contain plastic and metal components in complex structures, where different methods are required to solidify each material.

The breakthrough speeds up the solidification process of the conductive inks to less than a minute per layer.

Professor Chris Tuck, Professor of materials engineering and lead investigator of the study, said: “Being able to 3D print conductive and dielectric materials (electrical insulators) in a single structure with the high precision that inkjet printing offers, will enable the fabrication of fully customised electronic components.

“You don’t have to select standard values for capacitors when you design a circuit, you just set the value and the printer will produce the component for you.”

Professor Richard Hague, director of the Centre for Additive Manufacturing (CfAM, said: “Printing fully functional devices that contain multiple materials in complex, 3D structures is now a reality.

“This breakthrough has significant potential to be the enabling manufacturing technique for 21st century products and devices that will have the potential to create a significant impact on both the industry and the public.”